Monday, April 12, 1999

Tornado renews churches' faith




BY TOM O'NEILL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[tornado]
Annette Schroeder weeps as she speaks to fellow members of the Montgomery Community Baptist Church about their experience. Cincinnati Enquirer/Michael E. Keating
| ZOOM |
        They gathered Sunday morning to praise something bigger, more enduring than a tornado. And they left not just with their faith in God, but with a renewed faith in something else.

        One another.

        The deadly storm that claimed the lives of two parishioners at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Symmes Township, and tore off a roof at Montgomery Community Baptist Church, came with crushing swiftness Friday morning. And then it was gone. Amid the debris, faith was left standing.

        The Sunday services of the two churches were separated by a few miles of closed roadway, but little else.

        “What's the lesson for my kids?” Jim Garrett of Sycamore asked as he pushed a baby stroller into the Baptist service. “That other people care.”

        Hugs and handshakes lasted longer Sunday during the sign of peace at Good Shepherd. At the Montgomery Baptist service, held in temporary quarters at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy high school, the introduction of new church members culminated in extended applause.

        Within a half-hour of the 9 a.m. Baptist service ending, more than 150 church members had signed up for their own Red Cross-directed volunteer effort to help others. Cleaning up their own church building, they said, can wait.

        “We're saying, there's a bigger need in the community right now,” said sign-up worker and church member Ron Karpinsky of Sharonville. “Our church is in bad shape, but ...”

        On the church grounds at 11251 Montgomery Road, Symmes Township, the upper floor of the activity center and preschool building, built as an addition in 1994, is gone. But other parts of the church had only minor damage.

        In a tearful reminder of the fragility of life and the randomness of a tornado's wrath, Terry and Annette Schroeder took to the podium in the packed theater at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy. Annette balanced their youngest, 2-year-old Megan, on her hip while Terry tried to match words and emotion.

[tornado]
Nancy Niehaus, a member of The Community of Good Shepherd in Montgomery, reflects while talking about her experience on Friday. A couple that perished in the tornado belonged to the church. Cincinnati Enquirer/Yoni Pozner
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        “I promised this wouldn't be a sermon,” Mr. Schroeder began, “but the temptation is great.”

        Laughter filled the theater. As it settled, Mr. Schroeder recalled how he and his wife hurried their kids to the basement of their Montgomery home as the tornado approached.

        Emerging minutes later, they went out to see a sea of felled trees, 12 alone in their front yard. None hit the house, one missed it by 6 inches.

        “I'm here to spread (God's) message, loud and clear, every day for the rest of my life,” said the father of six.

        He tried to explain. “Within 300 yards of our house, 20 homes no longer exist,” he said. “Two people died right down the street.”

        Those two people were the Cooks, Lee and Jacque.

        “There's a lot of faith in this family,” said Jacque's cousin, Greg St. Arnauld, who attended the 10:30 a.m. service at Good Shepherd.

        In their memory, their church-family prayed.

        “We believe that even more powerful than any storm,” the Rev. Larry Tensi told his followers at a 7:30 a.m. service, “is the power of God's word through God's people. We've seen that in the last 24 hours.”

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